Monday, November 16, 2009

A Star Curiously Singing: An Interview with Kerry Nietz

Today we're featuring an interview with a new author, Kerry Nietz, whose Christian speculative novel about a world under Sharia law manages to be both futuristic and timely at the same time.

Q: Hi, Kerry, and thanks for being a guest on my blog! I just took a look at your information on the Marcher Lord Press site, and I have to tell you that A Star Curiously Singing has a fascinating premise. I was already thinking it reminded me a little of I, Robot, but with an extra dash of cosmic mystery thrown in. I love the line in your MLP interview that says it's like "I, Robot meets Muhammad." So now that we've intrigued everyone, do you want to tell us what the book is about?

A: A Star Curiously Singing is a speculative Christian novel with a decidedly cyberpunk feel. It takes place in a future hundreds of years from now, when much of the world is living under sharia law.

It is a dualistic society, where average people live on the streets in near-squalor and the powerful ride above them in cable car-like conveyances. This latter group is shrouded in high tech, to the point of needing specialized debuggers to handle their machines.

That’s where my protagonist comes in. Sandfly is a debugger who’s summoned to solve the mystery of why a bot malfunctioned. The extenuating circumstances? The bot has been on an interstellar voyage in an experimental ship. Something about the trip made it malfunction. So it is a sci-fi mystery of sorts.

Q: Not only does this premise sound futuristic, but also timely. So timely, in fact, that I could see the theme being a little controversial--or at least not "politically correct." Are you getting any feedback, either positive or negative, on the aspects of your book that deal with politics and Islam?

A: All the responses I’ve gotten about the book thus far have been quite positive. Of course, it is still early. Actually, there was one reviewer on Amazon who questioned the use of the name “Abdul.” In the book, Sandfly uses that name to refer to anyone who isn’t like him. You see, Sandfly has an implant in his head that not only connects him to the stream (think, future Internet) so he can perform his job, but also controls his behavior. Outlets for rebellion or disrespect on his part are fairly limited. Referring to non-implants as “Abduls” is one of the few ways he--and others like him--can rail against the machine.

Anyway, the reviewer thought I might have used it too much. Like it was unnecessarily disrespectful. It’s a fair point, but my first response was to wonder whether he would feel the same way if I’d used the name “Frank”? (I’m guessing probably not.) Regardless, I never gave it any thought when I was writing the book. Sandfly sort of writes himself.

Plus, there is significance to the name “Abdul” for Sandfly and his cronies. You’ll have to read the book to have it fully explained.

Q: This is your first published book, but not the first book you've written, correct? You've mentioned that you were writing A Star Curiously Singing mainly for yourself--and yet, it's the one that got published. Do you think that was simply a coincidence, or is there something different about this book from the others you've written?

A: Actually this is my first published novel. I do have a published non-fiction book called FoxTales, a memoir of a portion of my life in the software industry.

To answer the second part of your question--everything I’ve written has its own personality, a personality derived from the story and its characters. I would say, however, that A Star Curiously Singing is the most unique book I’ve ever written. To start with, it is written in first person present tense which is almost never used for novels. It also has a religion-based totalitarian world that is rarely touched upon in novels, much less in science fiction. Plus, the book has a lot of interesting future gadgets and human interactions that I think are unique as well. There is a review that was just published on Christian Fiction Review that does a pretty good job of outlining the book’s distinctiveness, I think.

Q: I also loved the story in your interview about the elderly author you met on a plane who--when you told him you were dabbling in writing--told you to start early, so you might actually publish before you die! I can SO identify with that line, and I imagine a lot of the other pre-pubbed writers who visit this site can, too. Did you collect a lot of rejections, or find yourself getting discouraged? And if so, how did you handle that and keep writing?

A: Oh yeah. I spent years and years of writing, editing, submitting and getting rejected. It can be very disheartening. In fact, I thought A Star might be the last book I wrote. That’s why when I started it, I told myself “this one is just for me”—meaning I didn’t care if it was publishable, or if anyone else ever saw it. I was just going to write the book I wanted to write, getting as creative as I wanted to get. Ultimately, I think that helped the book. It freed me creatively.

Sometimes that’s what it takes though. Tolkien had this word “euchatastrophe," which meant that just when things seem they are at their worst, good finally breaks through. That sort of describes my writing career…

Q: Do you have any advice for other writers who are struggling to keep writing in the face of discouragement and rejection?

A: Keep trying. You might get published before you die.

Q: The idea of Christian speculative fiction is very interesting to me. On the one hand, so many Christians have written great fantasy and spec fiction. But then this type of "out there" writing seems to make other Christians a bit nervous. How do you think speculative fiction fits in with a Christian worldview?

A: I think speculative fiction fits quite nicely with the Christian worldview. Wasn’t it the Apostle Paul who wrote that the gospel was a “stumbling block to Jews, and foolishness to Gentiles” and yet was both “the power of God and the wisdom of God”? So why should Christians feel nervous about a story with a few robots or aliens in it? What we as Christians are telling the world seems preposterous on the face of it: God became a man, walked the Earth and then died and came back to life. Plus, he lives today to repair and change lives! Preposterous—it might make you nervous--but also true! The same could be said for speculative fiction. It’s a perfect match, I think.

Q: We've mostly been talking about your book, but there are some pretty interesting events in your life story, too. One in particular has to do with Microsoft. Can you tell us about that?

A: Yes, I worked for Microsoft for seven years as a computer programmer, primarily on a database program called FoxPro. The reason I was employed by Microsoft, though, was because the company I worked for before that was purchased by them. (Fox Software.) At the time, Fox was the largest purchase Microsoft had ever made. Pretty significant for a company of only a couple hundred people...

Fox was much smaller when I started, though—less than a hundred people—and many of the employees were related. The owner of the company was also my boss, and he was a real character. Brilliant, driven, but also a little lacking in people skills. Bullying was his favorite motivational tactic. It was an interesting place to work. Lots of crazy stuff happened. For instance, my boss once picked me up during a snowstorm, drove me to work, and left me there. How many people can say that?

Q: Anything else you'd like to tell us about yourself?

A: I really appreciate the interview. I encourage everyone who is reading to get a copy of my book, A Star Curiously Singing, and tell me what you think. Also be sure to check out any of the other speculative titles available through Marcher Lord Press. They’re all great.

Oh, and if my non-fiction book interests you, that is called “FoxTales: Behind the Scenes at Fox Software”.

Thanks so much for being our guest today!


  1. Your book sounds really interesting! I can just imagine the fun you could have with the concepts you describe.

    I've been encouraged lots of times to write what the publishers are looking for, to conform, but I'm so glad I was too new to listen to that advice when I started my second novel, because I just wrote the type of novel I would love to read. And after years of rejections, and writing a book I thought the publishers were looking for, it's that earlier book that's actually getting published!

  2. Ah-ha! So I'm not the only one that's happened for. Glad to hear it!

    It really makes no sense if you think about it. In writing we have this highly-creative artform, and yet there is this inherent pressure to write what everyone else writes. Even in the descriptions that are written about new books: "Read 'Scare Me Deeply' it is like Kootz meets Grisham."

    So...the writer is just a copycat? We'd be sent to the office for doing that in school...(:

    Go figure.

  3. Great comments, Kerry and Melanie. What's frustrating to me (okay, one of many things) is that I've gotten rejected for both reasons: 1) but this has been done before. It's too much like (fill in the blank). 2)This is too different and new. We wouldn't know how to market it and readers wouldn't know how to take it.

    It seems there's a very fine line; publishers want something that's both new and fresh and exactly the same.